Project-Based Learning: Grade 8 Students Turn Injustice into Service

Hard-working Grade 8 students had a financial incentive to do their best this week, as they became legitimate human rights advocates in an attempt to earn money for charity.

For the last two weeks in English and Social Studies classes, student groups have been researching different causes of their choosing – from child soldiers and child abuse, to gender inequality and religious discrimination – and creating succinct, but meaningful, pitches for a Dragons’ Den-style presentation. A charity that fights against the topic of the most powerful and effective student pitch will receive all the money raised during a Service Day later this year.

“Last term we read The Pearl, a novel which has a major theme of injustice. Then, in a short story, we touched on residential school injustices. Recently, the kids have been researching, on their own, an injustice that exists in the world currently that they feel strongly about and would like to make a difference about,” said English teacher Mrs. Susan Vachon.

On Friday, students made their two-minute pitches to their peers and a panel of judges (Rev. Keven Fletcher and Middle School director Mr. Xavier Abrioux). The presentations, including impassioned speeches, powerful slideshows and creative videos, were all fantastic. They were clearly well-researched and planned, and the students’ genuine passion for wanting to help others really shone through while talking to the audience.

The project-based learning unit provided students with a choice and voice in the whats, whys and hows of every aspect of their presentations.

“The biggest thing with project-based learning is when given choice and freedom it increases engagement. We provided students with a framework, but they had lots of freedom within that frame to do what they wanted. We’ve also been coaching the groups on how to have those collaborative conversations in a way that everyone gets a voice,” Ms. Vachon said. “It’s been great, but a bit nerve-racking because the students are dealing with sensitive topics. We made sure they approached it with compassion and empathy, and I know they’re thinking that way.”

The top three presentations, as determined by the judges and Grade 8 students, will be sent to the Middle School student council, which will ultimately choose the one charity to benefit from a Service Day fundraiser.

Student Reflections

“My group did our project on the militarization of children, like child soldiers. We felt eighth graders could really connect to the cause and understand how unjust and how not right this is because these children our own age are being abused and forced to go to war. The project was fun because I felt we got a chance to do what we wanted. There was a lot of freedom; we got to do the research ourselves, we made everything ourselves and the teachers were there to guide us. I feel like that gives us more of a chance to really make our presentations unique.” – by Max

“We chose to do our project on child abuse because we all generally had a passion for it. I really learned that it’s a bigger issue than everyone seems to think it is; it’s gotten more publicity, but it hasn’t gotten better. Doing the project was a lot of fun because I liked working with this group and I like performing in front of an audience. I liked the freedom we had to do this project because you get to do what interests you, and then there’s more motivation to get it done right.” – by Alison

“For our topic we chose gender inequality because it really struck us when we were looking for topics; half of the people on this planet don’t get the same amount of rights as (men) do. We saw that and thought, ‘This isn’t fair. We need to do something.’ I learned a lot through this project; I didn’t know half of this stuff when we started, like women earn a lot less than men. It was life-changing to learn this; it really opened my eyes. It’s really interesting to do a project like this, working with other people and getting to figure out everything by ourselves.” – by Abdul

(photos by Kyle Slavin)

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